Too Christian? Reflections on Linus, Tebow, and Paul
Survey anyone within the church, and if they are honest, they will let you know that there is at least one approach or method for sharing the gospel that makes them cringe. It’s not that there isn’t excitement about the spreading of the news of Jesus and His redemptive work to redeem and restore mankind. It is the fact that, filtered through our own personalities, our own life experiences, and I might add, perhaps our own fears and concealed weaknesses… there are some approaches that we feel in our gut will be more effective to others. Because of these “vice” approaches, well they… we just can’t see them working well on us, if we were walking in unregenerate shoes.
Is it possible that someone’s testimony can be biblically labeled “too Christian?” When I hear this critique, I imagine most don’t intend to say that there is too much Christ in this person’s life or their message, and that instead they need a little less Jesus (although there may sadly be some who do legitimately think this). It is normally meant to argue that the image such a person is emitting is in some ways an embarrassing caricature of the Christian life. We fear that one’s choice of words, or perhaps the style and directness of an approach, might further perpetuate cultural stereotypes of Christianity that we ourselves wish we were free from (“Religious-Right Winger,” “Sheltered Home-school nerd,” or “Blind-Faith anti-intellectual” to suggest some I have heard).
For forty-six years, A Charlie Brown Christmas has reigned as the longest-running cartoon special in history. Yet, this classic was one that almost never made it. From the get-go, Peanuts creator Charles Shultz wanted the special to include skating, carols, a pageant, Guaraldi’s jazz, and the message that Christmas is really about the birth of Jesus. From the start, the show was hated by TV executives. They called it “too religious.” The music was too odd for a cartoon. It didn’t have a laughing track. And Shultz had the audacity to use the voice of real children. And unlike most of the film and media that is “Christian,” Linus’ quotation of Luke 2 left nothing to the imagination. The message of the incarnation was bold and forward. And how have people responded? Although the real fruit I believe most would look for is difficult to assess (which is: “how many people have come to know the Lord through this cartoon?”), no one can argue with the show’s forty-six year streak of holiday air time. And, doesn’t it still exist as a great platform to transition about talking to kids or your friends about the real meaning of Christmas today?
Today, there is a phenomenon in the world of professional sports that has some asking the same question: “is this behavior too Christian?” The man is Tim Tebow- quarterback of the Denver Broncos. The son of Christian Baptist Missionaries in the Philippines, Tim’s career in sports has been covered with controversy from head to toe. In high school, he was criticized for utilizing Florida’s recently passed law that allowed home schoolers to play on the sports teams of public high schools, a move many didn’t think was fair once they saw Tim’s success. In college, he left a legacy leading the Florida Gators with his record breaking numbers. But his loudest behavior was the degree to which he publically, and constantly, praised God for all these blessings, and even the difficulties, of his play and life.
And this 2011 NFL season, no name has generated more buzz (or more jersey sales) than Tebow’s.
Just this Tuesday morning, I woke up listening to The Herd with Colin Cowherd (ESPN radio), debriefing the phenomenon. Qualifying his statements by saying he is “not a religious man,” he went on to show how not only has Tebow’s unorthodox play and decision making combined with fortunate mistakes of opposing teams resulted in his 7-1 record as a starting quarterback, but also how wins and losses around the league are creating AFC home field match-ups that will favor the Broncos should they reach (freezing cold, windy, and wintery outdoor destinations that the Broncos are accustomed to playing in, and that are especially friendly to Tebow’s running game).
And, in a well thought out article by grantland.com writer Chuck Klosterman, he analyzes why so many people hate Tim Tebow, and ultimately, boils it down to reasons not of football criticism, but the fact that this young man is challenging the presuppositions of their worldview. The power and the vision with which he leads his life in Christ shows them something they don’t know how to grapple with- that “faith” is a viable option for living life. To summarize, Klosterman says “He is making people wonder if they should try to believe things they don’t actually believe.”
Now, Tebow receives a lot of criticism. We might even call it persecution. But as of yet, has the way he wears his faith on his sleeve caused anyone to be hardened to the gospel? Evidence seems to suggest the contrary- the boldness of his testimony is actually ruffling feathers in a way that is causing people to wrestle with the concepts of faith, God, and spiritual realities of life.
Romans 1:16 says “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God, to salvation, for everyone who believes.” I’d say Paul was a pretty “Christian” guy. He could speak in ways that related to his Gentile audience (Acts 17), but this didn’t make him mute his testimony in the slightest.
Personally, I can think of three times this week that I turned an open door opportunity to potently share the gospel fall by the way side. Sadly, I may have seemed more ashamed than bold. Yet my reminder is that I am doing that person no good by muting my testimony.
This Christmas, there is a very good chance that somewhere, someone will be asking (and maybe asking you) “what is the real meaning of Christmas?” As we draw nearer to Christmas Day, these examples have reminded me that, it is the season for Jesus. Let not the Gospel be spoken with fear. When we are “unashamed,” despite how people may respond to us, we can rest assured- it will be doing more good than harm. To believe otherwise is a lie that our culture, and the Deceiver, would love for us to believe.